Embedding social value in every project to create real community benefits

A woman and young child are investigating plants growing in an urban "meanwhile" garden outside the British Library

If you are serious about the need to embed social value, don’t let it be a budget line that can be easily cut. That was the message at our recent City Makers’ Forum

Urbanists are under pressure to deliver greater social value to communities hit by a cost-of-living crisi, and reduce the delivery costs in the midst of a recession. Can they square the circle? To do so, they need to make a strong case for social value. That means looking for new and different ways to deliver housing, regeneration and development schemes to put systems in place to protect the additional benefits.

At our City Makers’ Forum on 30 November in partnership with Hatch, we heard about some fantastic examples of projects which have delivered on social value in a tough economic climate through imaginative thinking at the outset and robust monitoring during implementation.

Top takeaways

  • Social value has to be truly embedded within strategies and organisational or project team culture. By taking this approach, it’s also less at risk to the being wiped out as part of cost saving.
  • Both the public and private sectors need to look for creative ideas to have a positive impact on communities, going beyond the usual mechanisms of jobs, apprenticeships and outreach in schools.
  • Those who want to deliver on social value in boroughs have a role to play to make a strong case to procurement and planning teams about the benefits.

“There are opportunities to think about social value across the project process. How we can best deliver social value right, from an early stage all the way through?” – Kelly Watson, Hatch Manchester

Inspiration from across London

Historically, the private sector has found it difficult to understand from local authorities exactly what social value they want from built environment projects. As local authorities move beyond numbers on a spreadsheet to a more nuanced approach, they are looking to developers to come up with more creative ideas.

We heard some examples of boroughs and the private sector making this happen.

Stanhope is carrying out an extension to the British Library. This is an eight-year programme with the potential for huge benefits locally, but also disruption during construction.

The developer will be appointing and paying a local person to be social value manager throughout the project.  They will liaise with the community and the developer to deliver training, outreach and engagement programmes.

The intention is to create projects that respond to the needs of people locally and find a permanent home within the library.  Stanhope is also supporting a local charity called Global Generation to manage a meanwhile Story Garden.

By rooting their activities in the community, Stanhope feel confident they will have “sustainable and resilient social value left behind”.

“You must have people at the centre of your thinking and at the centre of the process. So that means really meaningful two-way communication” – Alice Jardine, Stanhope

LB Lambeth has a £8m future workspace fund, which offers grants and loans to those offering affordable workspace. To ensure their money creates social value above and beyond the workspaces itself, they set high standards for their partnerships and will only work with organisations who are diverse-led and with a social mission.

Lambeth supports organisations where social value is intrinsic. One example is 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning based in Herne Hill, with the council funding a two-storey extension.

The 198 Contemporary Arts building. Image shows the 2-storey extension and a colourful mural on the side of the building

In addition to their gallery space, the arts centre now offers workspace and an education learning space for young people. Workspace is rented out commercially, providing a sustainable income to support their social inclusion work locally.

In Islington, workspace providers are offered peppercorn rent but they must make up the cost to market value through social value initiatives.

Providers and occupants of affordable workspace are asked to deliver social value on top of their existing work (for example, if they are providing workshops for the community already as part of their work, they need to do additional ones to meet the conditions of their workspace contract). The council’s contract manager checks obligations are met and social value realised.

Getting the mechanics right

Laying the groundwork and making sure you have the right systems in place to achieve social value is as important as creative ideas.

At this time when every budget line is being analysed, social value is at risk. Our speakers provided useful advice about embedding social value and protecting the initiatives to achieve it:

  • If social value is truly embedded as a separate budget line, it’s hard to wipe out when projects are being rescoped or value engineered.
  • Lambeth is putting together an at-risk register for local charities that have issues with premises. This gives them a ready-made wish list to offer to developers to support social value objectives.
  • It’s up to those delivering projects to make the case to council procurement and planning teams. In LB Islington, social value is measured with the TOMs framework. This provides a clear indication to the council of the value generated and justifies their work.

Thanks to our panel of speakers Matt Blades from LB Lambeth, Joyce Ogunade from LB Islington and Alice Jardine from Stanhope. Thanks also to our partners Hatch and to associate director Dr Kelly Watson for chairing.

You can read more about Future of London’s work on social value here and look out for more events from the City Makers’ Forum by signing up to our newsletter.

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